Play Best Courses No Matter Where You Are

HOWLAND, Ohio -- It’s a warm spring afternoon and the course spreads out before you. In the distance, birds chirp and waves crash against the South Carolina coastline.

You approach the tee, take your stance, keep your head down and swing through.

One loud smack and the ball takes flight down the fairway of one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world.

Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, one of the most distinguished PGA Tour courses in the country, is just one of the 44 courses that members of Avalon Lakes Golf and Country Club can play any time of the year, thanks to a sophisticated simulation system installed at the Avalon Lakes Country Club in Howland Township.

“There’s nothing like this anywhere around here,” says Adam Scott, director of golf at Avalon Lakes.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but we were busy all winter. It’s good for golf instruction, good for the serious golfers who get cabin fever.”

In late November, Avalon presented its new simulation room in the lower level of the Avalon Lakes clubhouse. The simulators are equipped with large screens that can project some  of the most challenging and  enjoyable golf courses in the world, Scott says. “Pebble Beach is the favorite,” he says.

The room offers four simulators, two large ones with panoramic, curved screens used mainly for play and practice, and two smaller stations. designed for play, practice and instruction, Scott says.

A player sets his ball on the tee or on the artificial turf, and drives it directly into the screen on which the course is projected. High-speed cameras can detect the velocity and trajectory of the ball, and the direction and speed of its spin, Scott explains.

“As the ball is spinning and moving, it reads how fast it’s moving, how it’s spinning and what direction it’s spinning,” Scott says. “Based on those three elements, you produce an accurate result.”

Once the ball makes connection with the screen, it drops to the floor and a digital image of the ball’s flight appears on the simulator, much like a giant video game. The simulator follows the path of the ball in flight, tracking it as it lands and rolls. A digital readout displays the distance of the shot and where it landed.

While the two large panoramic screens are used mostly for play and practice, Scott says the two smaller simulators serve as invaluable teaching tools. “Everything you want to know about your golf swing and your golf ball – launch, spin – it gives you everything,” he says. “There’s a full teaching software.”

To demonstrate, Scott launches a six-iron shot directly into the screen. Once the ball lands, a digital display gives the golfer important data on how the shot fared. “It gives me all this data – club speed, ball speed, vertical launch, backspin, the type of shot, how much sidespin, how it launched, how far off line, how high it got and how long it stayed in the air,” Scott says. “Golf is a numbers game.”

Cameras can record the shot and swing at 60 frames a second, Scott reports. This makes it possible to immediately play back and analyze a golfer’s swing, stance, and weight distribution as he progresses through the swing. “It’s very easy to see flaws, and it’s very easy to learn,” he says.

About Golf Inc., a Toledo-based company, designed the simulation system, adds Nick Dinsmore, Avalon general manager of golf. “There are certain packages that the company sells with these” that feature specific courses that range from The Links at Pebble Beach to the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland.

“We have all the big-name packages and some homemade stuff that includes courses that are all water, and fun stuff,” he says. “It’s goofy and really hard, but it’s also really fun.”

The membership director at Avalon, Jeff Shaffer, says the simulators are open to all members of its three clubs. Aside from Avalon Lakes, the company owns and operates Avalon at Squaw Creek in Vienna Township and Avalon at Buhl Park in Hermitage.

“Our members are just wowed by this,” Shaffer says. “We’re always trying to give our members more value for their money. They’re eating it up.”

Shaffer says that members are apt to use these simulators throughout the year, not just during the winter months. “We know around here that not every day is sunny and 75 degrees,” he remarks.

The simulation room has evolved into a social gathering place, Shaffer relates. “Some people just come down here and hang out, have a cocktail and watch other people play.” The room is equipped with dining tables, a full bar, a meeting room and a billiards table.

Renovation of the lower floor started last summer, Shaffer reports. “It’s about a half-million dollar investment down here.”

Membership at Avalon is on the rise, he adds, and credits ideas such as the new golf simulators as one reason why. “This facility is available to all of our members. You don’t have to be a golf member,” he says. Since January, Avalon has signed up about 185 new members.

“We had so many activities down here for our members, but we didn’t have a winter activity for golfers,” Shaffer says. “Normally winter memberships are down a little bit. This has helped.”

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the May edition of The Business Journal.

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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